McShane: a fierce desire is spurring on Orchard men
Earlier this year, an all too familiar roll call that was viewed to be daunting in the extreme threatened to torpedo Armagh's season before it had even started.
The fans — or so it seemed — had served as judge, jury and executioner as the Orchard County’s prospects were quickly assessed before being summarily dismissed with attention once again focused on everyday living, the premise being that welcome sporting attractions would not be on the agenda.
After all, it was reasoned, how could any team possibly cope with the loss of Jamie Clarke, Ciaron O’Hanlon, Oisin O’Neill, Kevin Dyas, Stefan Campbell, Caolan Rafferty, Paul Hughes and James Morgan?
Yet here we are down to the last 12 in the All-Ireland title race with Kieran McGeeney’s side jostling for prominence alongside the big and some not so big guns.
And one of the reasons for this is that players who were totally unknown outside their clubs a matter of months ago have seized the opportunity to play their part in bolstering a vibrant Championship campaign that comes on the heels of promotion to Division Two of the league.
Ryan McShane is among those who have morphed from being a bit-part player to becoming a key forward in an attack which racked up 2-16 in overcoming Clare last weekend and from which McGeeney is expecting even more in Sunday’s Round Four qualifier against Roscommon at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise.
Harps clubman McShane epitomises the spirit, drive and ambition of an Armagh side who rode their luck against Clare but believe they can make it into the Super-8s.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling to be going in against Roscommon,” enthused McShane.
“I know with a matter of minutes to go against Clare this did not seem possible, but here we are. While the players really dug deep in the closing stages, I could not believe the way the fans got behind us. The atmosphere was unreal and this made our win all the more satisfying.”
McShane’s lightning pace, his ability to pick off points and to retain possession even in difficult circumstances have combined to lend another dimension to an Armagh attack that was not expected to flourish without the presence of Clarke and Campbell.
“I think people like myself who have been given a chance were keen to make an impression and now it’s just brilliant to be one win away from getting into the Super-8s,” added McShane.
“While it is recognised that we had to deal with the loss of some big names, the desire and hunger within the squad have always been there. For players like me, to be handed a starting place in the team is a dream come true. You could not ask for more.
“Look at the way substitutes like Joe McElroy, Gavin McParland and Ross McQuillan came on last Saturday and landed the scores that got us over the line. You really could not ask for more than that.”
With Ethan Rafferty, normally a hugely influential figure in the Orchard County attack, out for the rest of the season because of injury, manager McGeeney is hoping to avoid any further setbacks as he plots his strategy for the clash with a Roscommon side that put up a rugged fight before eventually going down to Galway in the Connacht final.
“To have been missing maybe eight or nine of what we thought would have been our Championship team was hard to take at the outset, but the players who are in there now are producing the goods,” said McGeeney.
“I’m delighted with the character that the team have been showing and hopefully this will continue against Roscommon on Saturday. We’re in Round Four on merit and we’ll be in among teams whom people are eulogising.
“But this will not deflect us in our aim to try and reach the last-eight. I know the boys will give it their best shot.”